Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Black Warriors

Shirou Akebono/Battle Kenya

Kenji Ohba is awesome. Everybody knows that. I'm an animal lover, so I like characters like Akebono who take animals seriously and talk to 'em and stuff. Ohba, who's such a big personality, is capable of taking a character like this and making it work. Akebono's a wild animal man, he's funny, but Ohba doesn't turn him into an obnoxious cartoon. And I still think it was kind of genius of Gekiranger to cast Ohba as Jan's dad. (Not only for being the crazy jungle boy of Sentai's past, the way Jan was the current iteration, but also since Ohba was Aka Ranger's suit actor in the later portion of Goranger, so he's kind of a Red, too. Also: that Ohba's an action guy playing an elite martial arts master.)

Kanpei Kuroda/Goggle Black

Jun'ichi Haruta -- don't bet against the JAC guys. He's like Ohba, you know you're guaranteed results when you cast someone like him. I like how professorial Kuroda is. He's the one member of Goggle V who I think you can really rely on and never doubt. Kuroda's super intelligent and about strategy -- teaching the shogi class at school -- but he's not unflappable.

It's an interesting combo that he's the scientific guy, the brains on the team, but also the physical and action guy.

I also like that he uses shogi pieces as shuriken. *laugh*

Ryuu Hoshikawa/Dyna Black

Haruta returns, and with a character completely unlike Kuroda. Hoshikawa's not exactly an idiot -- he's a scientist after all -- but since he's more comedic and not buttoned down like Kuroda, it's easy to dismiss him as a simpleton. (Comedic does not equal stupid.)

I, of course, love that Hoshikawa is a descendant of ninjas and is a practicing ninja, and JAC performers excel at ninja action. Haruta provides some damn awesome action scenes in this show de gozaru.

Shou Hayate/Change Griffin

The man. He was popular at the time the show was airing, but I feel like he doesn't get the respect he deserves. Gai Yuuki eclipsed him, but Hayate was the first cool Black, and without any of the social and mental disorders Gai has. Take that!

Shou joined the military to impress the ladies, and while he puts up a cool front, he's a decent, caring guy, an honorable guy. A good soldier in his own right, he has your back and will follow you into any hellish battle. Shou can be light, he can goof around, but he still keeps a cool image and maturity, and actor Kazuoki plays both sides perfectly. There's a lot of times a character in toku will be cool, but they'll like to make him goofy, but it sucks away the cool factor, but Kazuoki's one of the rare ones to make it all work. I think he's the one who gives additional coolness to Hayate.

I think Hayate could take on Gai, and I say that as Gai's number one fan. I imagine Hayate just kind of coolly deflecting any kind of punch or attack of Gai's, the way Ryu/Red Hawk should have. (Hey, Kazuoki as Red Hawk, there's an idea.)

Another cool thing about Hayate is the way actor Kazuoki reaches a point where he likes to do a lot of the action scenes on his own, which is something he continued to do in subsequent shows he appeared in (Metalder, Janperson). Kazuoki became buds with a lot of the JAC guys on Changeman's staff and went on to do a lot of plays with the JAC in the '80s -- I think it speaks to how impressively he handled action scenes that he impressed the JAC. I spent a lot of time just assuming he was a JAC actor, like Jun'ichi Haruta.

Kenta/Black Mask

Supposedly, Toei originally wanted Changeman's Kazuoki to play Kenta. I feel like that would have kind of been a step down after Hayate. Kenta's Hayate-like, but at that point Kazuoki was too mature for the role. Kazuoki was more suited for someone like Gai Yuuki at this point (hey, there's an idea).

Kenta has a more youthful vibe, he's lighter and can be a big a bit of a goof. I think actor Kouichi Kusakari is a better fit with the Maskman cast, and aces those sides of Kenta. Kenta's cool and laidback, but he'll be there for you when shit's falling apart.

A moment of Kenta awesomeness -- when the Mio ice-cube has been stolen by Kiros, and Takeru's feeling pretty hopeless about finding her, with Sugata being like "Tough luck," Kenta's like "It's OK, bud -- let's take my Masky Drill and go drilling all over Japan until we find her!" Kenta's just a good dude and friend to have on your side.

I also have to point out Kusakari's voiceovers. The dude goes NUTS, and it's great. He's yelling, he's shrieking. He sounds like he might hack up blood by the end of the day. (Sometimes, I'd love to see footage of toku actors recording their suit voiceovers.) It really fits well with just what a powerhouse they try to depict Kenta as as a fighter -- in suit and out, they always try to convey just what force is behind his hits.

Tetsuya Yano/Black Bison

This sonuva. As I've said before, I love the concept of Takuji and Mari's siblings stepping in as the new heroes. I like that Tetsuya is the hothead who has revenge on the mind and just wants to lay a beatdown on any Volt asshole he can get his hands on. But the show never really does anything interesting with him or Jun'ichi, which might be because the casting for the two knuckleheads is horrendous. Actor Seirou Yamaguchi is real stinkowiff, barking out his lines. By the time Tetsuya loosens up and even forgives Gou -- you know, that could have been a big moment, really touching, but Yamaguchi can't deliver.

HUGE missed opportunity.

Daiichi Yamagata/Black Turbo

I like Daiichi as a character, I think he has that strong second-in-command quality about him, and that he wants the best for his friends. He's supposed to be kind of like Kouichiro/Mega Black in that he's physically and mentally fit and just wants to do good and be the best person he can. And while actor Yoshiaki Ganaha is far from the worst actor the franchise has seen, there's just something off about him that doesn't make the character completely soar. Ganaha always look like he'd rather be ANY place but on the set.

I still like Daiichi, but would have liked an actor who might have WANTED TO BE THERE! It totally makes Daiichi NOT the smart, calm and collected one of the team when he looks like he wants a Turbo Laser to catch him in the head during the next battle.

And it doesn't help that he looks like Donnie Osmond.

Fumiya Hoshikawa/Five Black

Fumiya's OK as a character, but actor Ryouhei Kobayashi has a weird acting style where he's always just cringing throughout his lines, no matter what the character's mood. What the hell's that about? I can't explain it, but I reallllly can't picture this dude headlining his own Kamen Rider show like he was supposed to -- he barely cuts it as third banana in freaking Fiveman.

Even though it's crazy unbelievable, I always liked when the show put Fumiya's linguistics knowledge to use -- he has a surprising amount of knowledge of alien languages and can whip things together, like Hoshi Sato from Enterprise.

But I basically kind of feel like he and Ken are interchangeable, though, at once meant to be strong cool guys, yet often yukking it up. They cancel each other out, and are the weakest ones in the cast, so...I kinda think Fiveman would be cooler if it was just Gaku, Kazumi and Remi. (Shubarie proved that "Threeman" doesn't have a good ring to it.)

Gai "Forever 27" Yuuki/Black Condor

He's a legend. He's rock 'n roll. There's a reason why he's so popular, and that's because he's awesome. Jetman was coming along at a time when the mainstream was starting to take superheroes more seriously, taking a more "adult" approach -- thanks to Tim Burton's Batman -- and I feel like this was THE moment for Jetman writer Toshiki Inoue, as that falls completely in line with his style.

Jetman wanted to emphasize a Sentai team of truly random people being brought together. It's Sentai's core theme -- the strangers putting aside their differences and uniting as one. There were teams before Jetman who would butt heads, but would pretty much come to an understanding by an episode's end. Jetman wanted to be realistic, Jetman wanted to have heroes who weren't meant to be heroes, who didn't necessarily want to be heroes, and that included basically a criminal, Gai.

On the surface, you're immediately drawn to Gai because you haven't seen a Sentai hero like him before. He's rude! He's a cheat! He smokes! He drinks! He womanizes! He's a lone wolf who doesn't play well with others! He's a super pessimist. Even without Vyram, he thinks the world is fucked, so he wants a good reason why he should risk himself to save it. Initially sticking around just for Kaori, he eventually finds he's good at this hero thing, he finds a purpose, and begins down a road of redemption and ends the series as a genuine hero and not an antihero.

It's a great arc, it's a fresh character, a genuinely cool character, and it's the reason he's the breakout star of the show, and a fan favorite character to this day. Gai would not work out if not for actor Toshihide Wakamatsu, who's talented, who gets the character. We've seen Inoue try to recreate the Gai type in other shows, but bad casting ruined it. Gai would probably be as obnoxious and hateful of a character as Faiz's Kusaka if not for a performer with the talent, charm and presence of Wakamatsu.

Goushi/Mammoth Ranger

I want to like Goushi, but I think actor Seiju Umon is a freak. He sticks out like a sore thumb, not really meshing with the cast. His acting's odd, he sounds like he eats razor-filled pineapples whole, he's ten feet tall, he seems about twice the age of everybody else in the show. How'd he get cast?!

The aging helps when it comes time for Goushi to be the bookworm and answer man, but I get the impression Goushi is supposed to be the cool guy, too, and he's not that. (You don't get Naoki Oofuji for your suit actor right after Jetman if you ain't supposed to be the cool guy. It's weird to see Oofuji do Gai-esque mannerisms as guys like Five Black and Mammoth Ranger, indicating they're supposed to be tougher and cooler than they are. Also: Oofuji's a dwarf compared to Umon. You don't buy for a second it's Goushi in suit. It's a reverse Jiro Okamoto situation.)

Goushi ain't bad or nothing -- he's a likable dude, and his focus episode towards the end of the series was one of the only episodes of Zyuranger I really liked. But he's an oddball -- a genuine freak in a show that tried way too hard to be freaky.

And, for some reason, Umon reminds me of Judge Reinhold. That don't help. "Hope you had a hell of a piss, Geki!"

Jiraiya/Ninja Black

Remember when Kakuranger was new and it was so fun and cool to see a Sentai hero who was American and spoke English?

It's kind of amazing Jiraiya works at all -- I think he's one of those characters that's good at being cool and serious AND being a goofball -- when you take into account that Kane Kosugi wasn't accustomed to acting in Japanese. And when you consider how insane the world of Kakuranger is on top of that.

But Jiraiya IS cool, and I think the closest Kakuranger has to a traditional, serious hero. (Some would say Tsuruhime; yeah, initially. But it always seemed to me like the goofy knuckleheadedness of guys like Sasuke and Saizo eventually rubbed off on her.) Kane Kosugi, being son of martial arts movie star Sho Kosugi, was a neat get for the series -- actually American, but from a Japanese showbiz family, an action star at that. The show kinda lucked out with his casting.

Kouichirou Endou/Mega Black

Kouichirou's the appointed leader of Megaranger, and you most likely don't ask why. For being one of the accidental picks of the team -- he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time along with Shun, Chisato and Miku -- he was the one who most belonged on the team, and INET was extremely fortunate to get him.

Kouichirou's a bright guy, responsible, and a dedicated student -- he's supposed to be a stickler for rules and a total do-gooder nerd, but I never found him to be all that bad. He's pretty open-minded and puts up with a lot of bull from someone like Kenta. He wants to do his best as a student, person, citizen, superhero, and he's coolheaded about it. He's such a good guy that, when the Megaranger thought they were dying, he devoted what he thought was his final hours alive looking for a cure. (With help from Chisato, Megaranger's other ass-kicker.)

I'm always surprised to remember that actor Atsushi Ehara wasn't an actor at all. His background is in sports, but he tried to break into acting and Megaranger was about the only thing he did. But he does such a good job in the role, completely believable as Kouichirou.

Soutarou Ushigome/Gao Black

He's funny. I think it's funny that he's a wannabe sumo, I think it's funny the way he's babied by the younger Blue. He's supposed to be about the contrast, a big guy who's physically strong, but on the inside is a softy, but I don't think it's done here as well as in Gingaman with Gouki.


Asuka/Abare Black

I have to admit, I had some reservations about Asuka when Abaranger first started, because I like cool Blacks, and Asuka was completely different. He's depicted as being emotional and a softy. He's not afraid to just openly cry. So I was like "Man, what happened to Blacks?" But Asuka, as his story unfolded, eventually won me over.

Asuka's a softy, but he's not weak. His backstory is tragic, in that he's pretty much been a soldier his entire life. All he really had was Mahoro and her brother Mizuho, and they get turned against him. Asuka has his own child used against him. AND, in a moment of total desperation, he donned the Cursed Armor and unwittingly killed a lot of his allies. He's a guy who's been shit on, witnessed a lot of atrocities, but he never gave in and never gave up hope or his belief in people.

And, like I've often said and people have caught on to -- Asuka's relationship with Mahoro beats the Ryu and Rie storyline in Jetman. Sorry, Inoue, sorry Jetman worshippers -- you're deluding yourselves.

Masumi Inou/Bouken Black

The worst. Absolutely the worst. Another in a long line of failures for Boukenger, they wanted Masumi to be the second Gai Yuuki -- dark, mysterious, cool, dangerous,  possibly criminal -- but it's an absolute laugh how far off target they are. If Gai Yuuki is Frank Sinatra, then Masumi Inou is Michael BublĂ©.

Where to start with this twerp? First off, he's about 12 years old, but supposedly has a reputation as some dangerous tomb raider. He joins Boukenger mainly to try and compete with Akashi, who himself is unbelievable as a supposedly awesome, treasure hunting genius. Their rivalry is meant to recall Hawk and Condor's, but these two have nothing behind it, nothing going for them. Indiana Jones and Belloq they're not. They're two colossal dorks.

Such a doofus is Masumi that 1) he forgets he hates Akashi until he reminds himself one day when rereading his own journal and 2) Yami no Yaiba convinces him he's evil because, when he was a kid, he chose to hide from a Dark Shadow attack. And the dumb-dumb falls for it.

He's not close to being cool or threatening. He sucks, he's a dweeb. And the sad thing is, actor Yasuka Saito is a big Sentai fan. Saito seems like a likable guy in real life, and I could see him being better in another show, but Boukenger -- and Masumi in particular -- wasn't a good match. But the writing stinks and didn't help him.

Gunpei Ishihara/Go-on Black

One of the only things I like about Go-onger. The show was stupid and made every mistake possible, but somehow had the good sense to alter the character once they realized actor Kenji Ebisawa wasn't able to pull off the cool guy Gunpei was initially meant to be. And rather than just make him an idiot without explanation, they chose the funny route of having Gunpei not realize he's not as cool and mature and knowledgeable as he thinks he is. Ebisawa was more at home playing a goof, and at the same time, we got kind of a spoof of the serious, cool Black stereotype.

Aguri/Gosei Black

Probably the most generic, forgettable thing in a Sentai show full of generic, forgettable things. Really...I can't tell you a damn thing about Aguri, except that his actor looks just like Kamen Rider Wizard, only Wizard somehow has more personality, when he and his show are the Kamen Rider equivalent of Goseiger.

Ian Yorkland/Kyoryu Black

More like Ian Dorkland, amirite? He's like Go-on Black, if everyone involved with the show never realized how bad Ebisawa was at being cool. Kyoryuger seriously thinks Ian is cool! And he's, like...so far from cool that there isn't even a humorous comparison to make here.

And the Black I choose to be on my team...

Change Griffin. Once again -- he's Black Condor without any of the mental or social disorders. Meaning: he's cool and bad-ass, but won't be a pain in the ass.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Grown Folks in Spandex Fake-Fighting

If you're reading this blog post, you might be a superhero nerd. I'm a superhero nerd. I'm a nerd of a lot of things; horror, sci-fi -- for better or worse, the Nerd Bug bit me quite a few times. Despite the absolutely hostile takeover of all things superhero or "geeky" in Hollywood and pop culture, society, journalist snobs and even Hollywood, as it pickpockets us, still feel the need to make you feel ashamed of your hobby, your passion. Some people embrace what they like; some feel the need to keep it at arm's length; some feel the need to "like" it in an ironic way, not wanting to admit they DO like this stuff on a genuine level. But I'm sure we've all felt that tinge of shame or embarrassment, when...why should we?

Society says you're immature or a loser or a nerd if you like superheroes. We've all heard our favorite heroes reduced to the obnoxious "people in spandex" or "guys in rubber suits punching other guys in rubber suits" description. Superheroes are "juvenile," comic books "for stupid people." Meanwhile, society expects -- demands, accepts -- that every man worship at the altar of professional sports. Sports, which are grown men in spandex. Sports, in which society pays these spandexmen millions to play a game played by kindergarteners. Sports, in which millions is made from merchandise that is A-OKacceptable to wear, to display. To show your team pride is admirable; a man of any age can wear a t-shirt of their favorite sports team and nobody will say anything, that person's personal life or worth will never be questioned. A man above a certain age wear a Superman shirt? Every third person will glare and every person will probably judge that man.

In a relationship, an adult is expected to discard "juvenile" hobbies -- like comic book reading or memorabilia collecting -- to "put away childish things" for the sake of their significant other. But a spouse will allow their partner to build shrines in their home to their favorite sports teams. Many people will force themselves to like sports for the sake of their SO, but will have a hard time tolerating a superhero or sci-fi fan. (I never understood this. Superhero stories, sci-fi stories, other genre works have a dramatic structure and narrative and offer multiple things to a viewer. Some people have such zero tolerance accepting a "geeky" thing, yet will feign enthusiasm and interest in sports when a lot of people know damn well the fact that nobody wants to admit: sports are mind-numbingly boring. Fun to play, yes. But if you're not a drinker, how in the FLYING fuck are you expected to watch four-hour games and not want to jump through a window?)

"[Sports] is a physical journey, a spiritual journey. It's the meaning of life." You're allowed to say this kind of shit about sports, with a straight face, and not get yourself laughed at by "normal" society.

So it's not really sports/physical versus nerd/cerebral. Because sports worship is a spectator, well, sport. Unless you count tailgating and screaming at referees.

A sports fan knows every minute statistic about each player; they can tell you who won the winning touchdown in the 1973 Super Bowl. These are "normal" members of society. If you know Green Lantern's oath? BURN THE NERD! So for every article that claims "the geeks have inherited the earth," there's many, many examples to show you that that's not the case, and we're still a looked-down-upon fringe.

And quite frankly, I just don't get why it's "OK" and "normal" to follow sports like a Deadhead will follow the ghost of Cherry Garcia, but it's "weird" to be geeky about nerd stuff. Is it a holdover from jock- and cheer leader-worship in high school? Now who's being childish?